Xinhua, October 18, 2011

Afghans struggle with economic woes

"There has been a 60 percent increase in the prices of food items in Afghanistan since 2007"

By Farid Behbud

"Yet again, a new cold winter is coming but I have no enough money to buy firewood after buying food staff with price increasing week by week," said a resident in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Wali Khan, who came to buy brushwood in a firewood market.

Khan, 45, head of an 11-member family, said he and two of his sons have jobs with low income to feed the big family, who lives in a slum neighborhood in south of Kabul.

"I have a small stall near my house, selling essential articles and foodstuff but I cannot afford this living as the living cost rises and it's difficult to have a stable livelihood here over the past couples of years," Khan said while carrying some firewood to a scale with all weights from river stones instead of standard metal ones. "Living cost has been rising constantly while suicide bombings and explosion occurred every day in this country," Khan said.

In Kabul, some 80 percent of the population lives in unplanned settlements where poor sanitation and lack of access to potable water is common and nearly all of the buildings has no central heating system.

An Afghan woman with her child, begs in the bitter cold in Kabul, Afghanistan
An Afghan woman with her child, begs in the bitter cold on February 6, 2008 in Kabul, Afghanistan. According to WFP, nine million people face severe food shortage. (Photo: RAWA)

Although there is no official statistics, it is believed that some nine million Afghans live under poverty line and rely on only one U.S. dollar income daily in Afghanistan.

"Due to the past three decades of war, investment in the agriculture has dropped by 43 percent," Afghan Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Minister Mohammad Asif Rahimi was quoted as saying by a local popular English newspaper -- The Outlook Afghanistan on Monday.

Rahimi said in a gathering marking the World Food Day on Sunday that high food price has been adding to the woe of war-weary Afghans.

"Fuel price rise has affected the price of firewood directly as the transportation of firewood from eastern Afghan provinces and neighboring Pakistan costs higher than last year," Mohammad Noor, a wood seller, told Xinhua.

"One Sair (7kg) of firewood cost 60 Afghanis (1.3 U.S. dollars) last year but this year it cost 80 Afghanis (1.8 U.S. dollars)," Noor said adding, lack of job opportunity and unemployment forced many locals in eastern Khost, Paktiya and Paktika provinces to cut trees illegally in the mountain and sell firewood as source of income for their families.

Now only about three percent of the war-torn Afghanistan are forested, mainly in the eastern provinces.

"There has been a 60 percent increase in the prices of food items in Afghanistan since 2007," Country Director of UN World Food Program (WFP) Willim Afif said in the same event on Sunday.

However, he said WFP will provide assistance to 2.8 million Afghans this year.

The overall agricultural production, the backbone of the national economy, dramatically declined over the past couple of years due to drought as well as persistent fighting and instability in rural areas, despite the fact that only 12 percent of the land is arable and less than six percent currently is cultivated,.

According to Rahimi, the price of rice has increased by three percent and that of maize by 74 percent over the past one year and half.

"Normally, every Afghan family spend nearly 59 percent of their monthly income on foodstuff," Rahimi said.

"They haven't had enough money for other expenses like health and education," the minister added.

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